Students leave Christian and Missionary Alliance Sun Kei Secondary School in Tseung Kwan O on January 20. Secondary schools that want to hold full-day, in-person classes must ensure 90 per cent of students have three Covid-19 vaccinations by November 1. Photo: May Tse
Alice Wu
Alice Wu

Students and schools are being failed by Hong Kong’s shifting Covid-19 goalposts

  • The government continues to leave students and schools in flux, with changes to the summer break now being followed by stringent new vaccination requirements
  • Putting the pressure to raise vaccination rates on teachers and students is unfair and ignores the damage being done to children’s mental health and development

Just like that, summer ended almost as quickly as it started for most Hong Kong children. For many families, the two-week summer holiday wasn’t really a break. Rather, it was yet another hectic disruption because “back to school” usually involves a mad dash to get new uniforms and textbooks. For schools, getting classrooms ready and orienting new students means there is no time for teachers to come up for air.

But we had our summer break early, you might say. That’s true. The government moved the summer break up to February this year, without any consideration for the impact that continued, prolonged disruptions and school closures have on the learning, social and emotional development, and health, of our students. They probably thought it was just dates on the calendar.
And so we are back to sticking foreign objects up our noses every morning, with fingers crossed, hoping for the negative RAT results so as to be granted access to school.
For weeks, even before the last school year officially ended, we have been told to brace for an increase in the daily case numbers, with authorities all-too eager to remind us to be prepared for corresponding measures.


Hong Kong Covid-19 cases could peak at 20,000 a day, expert warns

Hong Kong Covid-19 cases could peak at 20,000 a day, expert warns
Now, with schools opening just when citywide daily Covid-19 cases surpassed 10,000, the goalposts have been moved yet again. Under new vaccination requirements, secondary schools are only allowed to hold full-day, face-to-face classes if the rate of students with three Covid-19 vaccinations hits 90 per cent by November 1.
If students want to participant in mask-off extracurricular activities, then schools need to hit the 90 per cent rate by October 1. Primary schools and kindergartens are not allowed to hold full-day classes yet.
The government is doubling down on raising the vaccination rate by extending the vaccine pass to cover children as young as 5 years old. They will need to have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine to dine out and have access to most government and business premises. Details are expected to be revealed this week.

While raising the vaccination rate is an integral part of protecting residents from Covid-19, the government must continue to step up efforts to address the concerns of those who have been holding back. Offloading the pressure to bump up the inoculation rate onto schools is unfair to both educators and students, whose primary jobs are to teach and learn.

What you need to know about vaccine rules for new school year in Hong Kong

At some point, a line must be drawn. Those who put their children at risk by not allowing them to take the vaccine need to pay for their choice, as opposed to making others suffer the consequences of limiting learning opportunities when schools cannot resume full-day, face-to-face classes.
The ever-moving goalposts are reminiscent of Hong Kong’s repeated failed attempts to reopen its borders with the mainland and Macau. It has been hurdle after hurdle for our students when it comes to exercising their right to education. There needs to be a clear, fair and attainable blueprint and schedule on the resumption of full-day classes.
Health experts are projecting that daily infection numbers could reach up to 20,000. Given that reality, we must also prioritise the mental well-being of students and recognise that going to school is a vital part of childhood and adolescence.

Back at school at last, can Hong Kong students make up for lost time?

With international schools not subject to the new rule – as well as other private schools offering a non-local curriculum – the government has again fallen short. If the rules are not applicable to everyone, how can it insist on imposing stringent measures? We should not be embracing the notion that all students are equal, but some more than others.

Education is a right, not a privilege, after all. The government must make every effort to ensure that as we adapt in our fight against the pandemic, we do not leave our children and their needs behind.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA